SPARC cannabis project receives county OK
By Melissa Dowling
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a project use permit for cannabis farming and cultivation on a portion of the former Gordenker Turkey Farms property in Glen Ellen during its Jan. 26 meeting.
“This is the perfect location for cannabis cultivation and processing,” said First District Supervisor Susan Gorin of the 27-acre site, located at 12201 Highway 12, north of Trinity Road. Gorin made the motion to approve the operation, which includes a cannabis processing facility housed in an existing barn on the parcel, and indoor, outdoor and mixed light cannabis cultivation, after a presentation by staff confirmed the project is consistent with criteria specified in the county’s Cannabis Ordinance, meets the parameters for a use permit under the Land Intensive Agriculture zoning designation, and adequately addresses environmental requirements. Most of the public comments made during the hearing on Jan. 26 were positive, with speakers in favor of the application noting the operation’s partners, including Erich Pearson and Sean Kelley, are not only “organized,” “clean,” and “professional” farmers, but also good neighbors. Several recalled how the applicants helped rescue nearby homes when the Nuns Fire devastated the area—including the Gordenker ranch itself—in October 2017.
One neighbor, who lives across Highway 12 in the Trinity Oaks neighborhood, expressed concern about the smell associated with cannabis farming and processing. Plans call for use of odor neutralizing agents in the greenhouse, along with other scent mitigation strategies.
Other notable features of the cannabis operation, called Sparc, include plans to outfit the 20,000-square-foot processing barn with solar panels, and using blackout curtains in the 70,000-squarefoot greenhouse to prevent light pollution and preserve Glen Ellen’s dark skies. Both buildings will be equipped with odor neutralizing agents and systems to limit the cannabis aroma released to surrounding areas. The operation incorporates biodynamic farming processes, and the partners plan to apply for California state organic certification once the business is underway.
Additionally, it was noted that under CEQA, the strict California Environmental Quality Act, negative environmental impacts, including impacts on nearby streams, were adequately mitigated.
When fully operational, Sparc will have 17 full-time employees, and will be closed to the public. The applicant has invested $1,247,000 to date on the project, including nearly $400,000 in taxes. The Sparc project garnered unanimous approval from the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Council (SVCAC) in January 2020. In addition to the use permit for cannabis cultivation, SVCAC also recommended approval of a zoning change that removed the previous Mineral Resource Combining district zoning. The mineral resource zoning allowed for operation of Trinity Quarry on the property, which at one time produced flagstone known as “Sonoma Gold.”
The Gordenker family has a long history in Glen Ellen, going back to the 1800s. In addition to the quarry operation, the ranch was also famously used to raise turkeys. This approval was a first step for plans for the operation. Erich Pearson, CEO of SPARC (the leaseholder of the property) looks forward to possible changes in the County General Plan that will allow cannabis tourism in the future. “I view our use permit as a first of many steps in Sonoma Valley. We hope to work with the local government to create public access on the property, in the form of a retail sales store, a dispensary for products that we grow, or maybe a farm stand. We’ve built a lake on the property. We’re looking forward to exploring the opportunity of glamping and on-site overnight access overnight access on the backside of the property. We’re looking forward to making a more of a hospitality centered experience around the farm”